PA0112

 

Written evidence submitted by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT)

 

Key points

  • There is a clear correlation between pupils who are more likely to have persistent and severe absence, and the prevalence of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). This includes children living in areas of social disadvantage, pupils with SEND, those in alternative provision and those in touch with social care services.
  • Speech and language therapists report that that they are witnessing increased anxiety and Emotionally-Based School Avoidance (EBSA) since the pandemic, especially in autistic children and young people, those who have social communication difficulties, or those with an anxiety disorder such as selective mutism.
  • Given the strong evidence that children and young people who are more likely to have poorer attendance records are also more likely to have SLCN, there is a need to ensure that identification and support for SLCN is considered as part of the solution when considering responses to persistent absence. This should include training for  education staff, and improving access to the specialist workforce.

 

  1. The factors causing persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils

 

1.1   Recent research and analysis conducted by the Children’s Commissioner for England has found the following factors were associated with absence from school:

 

“Among children in The Big Ask, we find there are several factors associated with a higher probability of missing education, including receiving mental health support, being unhappy with educational progress, being unhappy with friendships, having a social worker, and being supported by a youth offending team.  Children’s responses indicated that some were missing school because their special educational needs were not being met, they were not able to access mental health support, or they had experienced bullying in school.  For some children, there was a combination of these factors” (Children’s Commissioner for England, 2022).[5]

 

There is significant evidence to suggest all of these identified groups are at higher risk of having speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), as detailed below.

 

While we cannot say for sure that the link is causal, we can consider what we know about the experience of pupils with unsupported SLCN in school, who can find it hard to make friends, often struggle with schoolwork and find it difficult to understand and follow instructions. Then we can see why children with SLCN may be more likely to be persistently absent from school. 

 

  1. Disadvantaged pupils

 

2.1   Data from the Department for Education shows that 33.6% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 20% of pupils who were not eligible.[6]

 

2.2   Research shows that there is a strong correlation between socio-economic disadvantage and language difficulties:

 

2.3   Identification and support for SLCN should therefore considered as part of the solution when developing responses to persistent absence in disadvantaged pupils.

 

  1. Pupils with SEND

 

3.1   Data from the Department for Education shows that 35.9% of pupils with an EHCP and 30.6% of pupils with SEN support were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 21.5% for pupils with no identified SEN.[10]

 

3.2   Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are the most common type of primary need – representing almost a quarter (23%) of all children and young people with SEND. It is the second most common type of need for pupils with EHCPs.[11]

 

3.3   Moreover, many of the children with other types of SEND will also have communication needs that require additional support – be that autistic children, those with learning difficulties, deafness, or social, emotional and mental health needs.

 

3.4   There is significant under-identification of SLCN. This is demonstrated by a comparison of the data on the numbers of children identified as having SLCN as a special educational need in schools with research on the prevalence of the most common condition (Developmental Language Disorder, or DLD):

 

3.5   We also know that too many children with SEND, including children and young people with SLCN, are not able to access the specialist support they need. NHS England data shows that in October 2022 there were 64,102 children and young people on the waiting list for speech and language therapy – this is the largest waiting list of any paediatric service. The most common reasons preventing reductions in waiting lists reported were workforce availability (24%) and increase in demand/referrals (24%).[14]

 

3.6   It is essential therefore that identification and support for SLCN is prioritised when developing policy responses to persistent absence for pupils with SEND.

 

3.7   The need to improve provision for pupils with SEND in order to increase attendance is acknowledged by Ofsted in their report, Securing good attendance and tackling persistent absence: “The curriculum and overall provision for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) are important so that these pupils – too many of whom often have poor attendance – have a positive experience of school.”[15]

 

  1. Pupils in alternative provision or at risk of exclusion

 

4.1   Data from the Department for Education shows that 75.7% of pupils in pupil referral units were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 23.5% for pupils in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools.[16]

 

4.2   Many children and young people in alternative provision settings have SLCN which were not identified prior to entering the setting. The most common reason for pupils being excluded from mainstream education is disruptive behaviour; research shows that many children and young people who are excluded or at risk of exclusion have behavioural difficulties which co-occur with communication needs that are often unidentified and unsupported:

 

4.3   This suggests that identification and support for SLCN should be considered in relation to persistent absence within alternative provision – indeed, it may be possible to learn from the Department for Education’s Alternative Provision Specialist Taskforce project, which has established multi-disciplinary teams of specialists, including speech and language therapists, to work directly with young people in alternative provision settings to offer intensive support.

 

 

  1. Pupils in touch with social care services

 

5.1   Research by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has found that authorised and unauthorised absence was much higher for pupils who have ever been Children in Need (12% overall) than pupils who haven’t (7% overall).[19]

 

5.2   This is backed up by local data: for example, a speech and language therapist has told us that in their local authority, attendance for children and young people on child protection plans is 70%, compared to 90% for all pupils. They have also found that more than half of children with a social worker who have SEND are persistently absent.

 

5.3   Research shows that SLCN are particularly prevalent amongst children and young people in touch with social care services:

 

  1. The impact of the pandemic

 

6.1   Speech and language therapists report that that they are witnessing increased anxiety and Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) since the pandemic, especially in autistic children and young people, those who have social communication difficulties, or those with an anxiety disorder such as selective mutism.

 

6.2   Our members have suggested that part of the reason may be that prior to the pandemic the concept of not going to school was not seen as a viable option, but the introduction of the blended learning approach following school closures may have changed this perception.

 

“We have seen an explosion in Emotionally Based School Avoidance, particularly in those who have social communication difficulties (and Autism - diagnosed or not) since Covid. I think that the rule was to attend school, and that rule changed. This means that children have a different understanding of the need to attend school. They have had the opportunity to learn from home, away from crowds, noise and social interaction and now they don't want to go back to that.” Consultant speech and language therapist

 

6.3   For Year 6 pupils who were due to transition between primary and secondary education during periods of COVID lockdown, the usual transition support was not in place, leading to further anxiety about attending school, impact on friendships and wellbeing.

 

6.4   There is also increasing evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on children’s development. Children of all ages have had reduced opportunities to interact with others to develop essential skills in speech, language and communication, with the greatest impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

6.5   Given the correlation between SLCN and school absence, it is vital that these children are supported to develop their speech, language and communication skills now, if we are to reduce the risk of them becoming persistently absent from school in the future.

 

  1. How schools and families can be better supported to improve attendance

 

7.1   As highlighted above, children and young people who are more likely to have persistent and severe absence are also more likely to have SLCN. Given this evidence, measures to improve attendance must include support for education staff to equip them with the knowledge and skills to understand how to:

7.2   This could be delivered through:

7.3   The RCSLT has developed an e-learning course – Mind Your Words - designed for professionals working with children and young people. The tool aims to improve understanding of children and young people who have both mental health needs and SLCN. The free online training highlights the links between mental health and communication and outlines how professionals can work together to remove communication barriers and help these children and young people achieve their potential. More information is available at https://www.rcslt.org/learning/mind-your-words/

 

7.4   In addition, it is vital that pupils who are more likely to have persistent and severe absence are able to get the support they need from specialist professionals, such as speech and language therapists. Ensuring children, young people and their families can access specialist support from expert professionals is essential throughout their school lives. A wide range of professionals provide direct support to children and young people and families, in addition to helping teachers to develop their knowledge and skills. They also play a vital role in keeping more children in school.

 

7.5   Currently we are seeing a variety of concerning issues impacting the specialist workforce, including:

 

7.6   As part of a coalition of more than 100 organisations, the RCSLT is calling on the Government to address gaps in the specialist workforce and ensure there will be sufficient specialist professionals to help children – now and in the future. More information about the coalition is available at https://www.rcslt.org/news/rcslt-leads-coalition-calling-for-investment-in-the-specialist-workforce/

 

  1. About the RCSLT

 

8.1   The RCSLT is the professional body for speech and language therapists (SLTs), speech and language therapy students and support workers, with more than 20,000 members across the UK.

 

8.2   SLTs are an integral part of the chidlren’s workforce, working alongside parents/carers and with other professionals across education, health and social care to support children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and those with eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties.

 

8.3   SLTs’ specialist knowledge and skills regarding children’s speech, language and communication development mean they also have a key role in enabling universal approaches to supporting speech and language development for all children, and planning targeted interventions for those at increased risk.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]References

Children’s Commissioner (2022). Back Into School: New insights into school absence. Online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/cc-new-insights-into-school-absence.pdf

[2] Children’s Commissioner (2022). Back Into School: New insights into school absence. Online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/cc-new-insights-into-school-absence.pdf

[3] Children’s Commissioner (2022). Education history and attendance. Online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/cco-education-history-and-attendance.pdf

[4] Children’s Commissioner (2022). Education history and attendance. Online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/cco-education-history-and-attendance.pdf

[5] What we learned from The Big Ask about attendance https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/cc-what-we-learned-from-the-big-ask-about-attendance.pdf

[6] Department for Education (2022). Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term. Online: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term

[7] Law, J., Todd, L., Clark, J., Mroz, M., and Carr, J. (2013) Early Language Delays in the UK. Save the Children

[8] Dockrell et al (2012). Understanding speech, language and communication needs: Profiles of need and provision. Department for Education. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/ system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557156/ DFE-RR247-BCRP4.pdf

[9] Locke, A., Ginsborg, J. & Peers, I. (2002). Development and disadvantage: Implications for the early years and beyond. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 37(1): 3-15.

[10] Department for Education (2022). Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term. Online: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term

[11] Department for Education (2022). Special educational needs in England: Academic Year 2021/22. Online: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england/2021-22

[12] Department for Education (2022). Special educational needs in England: Academic Year 2021/22. Online: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england/2021-22

[13] Norbury, C. F., Gooch, D., Wray, C., Baird, G., Charman, T., Simonoff, E., Vamvakas, G. & Pickles, A. (2016). The impact of nonverbal ability on prevalence and clinical presentation of language disorder: evidence from a population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(11), 1247–1257

[14] NHS England (2022). 21 December 2022 – Information on community health services waiting lists. Online: https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/12/CommunityHealthServices_SitRep_Oct22.xlsx

[15] Ofsted (2022). Securing good attendance and tackling persistent absence. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/securing-good-attendance-and-tackling-persistent-absence/securing-good-attendance-and-tackling-persistent-absence

[16] Department for Education (2022). Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term. Online: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term

[17] Clegg, J., Stachhouse, J., Finch, K., Murphy, C. and Nicholls, S. (2009). Language abilities of secondary age pupils at risk of school exclusion: A preliminary report. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 25(1), 123– 139.

[18] Hollo, A, Wehby, J.H. and Oliver, R.M. (2014). Unidentified Language Deficits in Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A MetaAnalysis. Exceptional Children, 80(2), 169-186.

[19] Children’s Commissioner (2022). Education history and attendance. Online: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/cco-education-history-and-attendance.pdf

[20] Lushey, C., Hyde-Dryden, G., Holmes, L. & Blackmore, J. (2017). Evaluation of the No Wrong Door Innovation Programme. Department for Education Research Report, Ref: ISBN 978-1-78105-598-4, DFE-RR542

[21] Clegg, J., Crawford, E., Spencer, S. and Matthews, D. (2021).  Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) in Young People Leaving Care in England: A Study Profiling the Language, Literacy and Communication Abilities of Young People Transitioning from Care to Independence. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 18, 4107. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084107

[22] Snow, P., McLean, E. & Frederico, M. (2020). The language, literacy and mental health profiles of adolescents in out-of-home care: An Australian sample. Child Language Teaching and Therapy; 36(3): 151-163. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265659020940360

[23] Hogg, S. & Mayes. G. (2022). Casting Long Shadows: The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on babies, their families and the services that support them. First 1001 Days Movement and Institute of Health Visiting.

[24] Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (2022). Child development outcomes at 2 to 2 and a half years: annual data 2021 to 2022. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/child-development-outcomes-at-2-to-2-and-a-half-years-annual-data-2021-to-2022

[25] Public Health England (2021). Child development outcomes at 2 to 2 and a half years experimental statistics: 2019 to 2020 data. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/child-development-outcomes-at-2-to-2-and-a-half-years-experimental-statistics-2019-to-2020-data

 

February 2023